Adam Klein is committed. When I sat down to meet him for coffee to chat about this year’s Twilight Americana Festival held in Athens, GA (formerly named the Athens Americana Festival), the festival’s organizer had just been rear-ended in a car accident. As soon as he learned that no one was injured and that the vehicles involved suffered no major damage, Klein called to let me know that he’d be late, but that he was definitely on his way. A minor fender-bender wasn’t going to stop Klein from talking about the festival that he has a big hand in organizing.
Only in its sixth year of existence, the festival is one of the best-kept secrets of the small festival circuit – a secret that Klein and his fellow organizers hope goes public. With the lineup that the festival features this year, that shouldn’t be much of a problem. From nationally touring outfits like alt-rockers Deer Tick and populist singer-songwriter Joe Pug to Athens-local fare like The Corduroy Road and the Darnell Boys, this year’s festival features some of the best acts associated with Americana from all over the United States. For a mere $50, festival-goers can purchase wristbands that allow them to attend several shows at participating venues from April 25 to April 28 in the Classic City. Tickets to individual shows associated with the festival can also be purchased through the venues hosting the performances.
Although Athens might signify something of an indie-rock Mecca for most music fans (insert your own obligatory reference to R.E.M. and the B-52’s here…), those not as familiar with the North Georgian town that is home to around one hundred thousand residents will be surprised to learn that Athens has been a hot spot for Americana music for quite some time. In addition to being home to bigger acts like Drive-By Truckers, the town has also served as a launch pad for many acts that fall under the umbrella of that genre for quite a while.
When asked what defines Americana music, Klein grinned before assuring me that “there is a home for broad types of that kind of music.” When pressed, Klein cites the Americana Music Association as carrying the torch for the genre, emphasizing that Americana is “music that is inspired, influenced by, and features elements of traditional American roots, country and folk music and sounds.” The breadth of the genre is clearly a positive for Klein. The genre is wide enough that it “can include Solomon Burke or the Alabama Shakes” as well as other acts that even the most casual music listener will recognize and enjoy.
Whereas other summer mega-festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza might showcase a wider range of talent, opting to include any and all genres, Klein sees the smaller, narrower focus of Twilight Americana as advantageous to those attending the event. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Klein said as a local bluegrass band was warming up outside the coffee shop where we were chatting. “[Athens] is a great town and that’s why we’re doing it.” Not only does the Twilight Americana offer exposure to the bands playing, Klein emphasizes that the city of Athens (along with its vibrant arts scene) also stands to benefit.
It’s important to note that this year’s Twilight Americana Festival is a huge step forward for the festival’s organizers as well as the town of Athens. In years past, the festival has been successful but modest, featuring smaller national acts like The Mastersons (the husband-and-wife duo that backs Steve Earle in the Dukes & Duchesses) and other local acts from Athens like Sans Abri (a side-project of sorts from Athens mainstays Packway Handle Band). Josh Erwin from Sans Abri has played the Americana festival in Athens with a number of bands and says that he’s impressed with the maturation of the event over the past few years. Erwin says that “changed from a locals pre-Athfest Americana geared event where you could expect to see only the usual suspects and their new projects to something that is taking over the town and is now integrated with Twilight,” a criterium-style bicycle race that brings hundreds of cyclists and spectators to downtown Athens every April. Drew Carman from The Corduroy Road added that while Twilight Americana might still be in its infancy, it has the potential to be “a premiere Americana festival in the Southeast.”
Before this year, the event was relegated to Little Kings Shuffle Club in downtown Athens, a bar that set up two stages for bands to play. This year, a number of historic venues in town like the 40 Watt Club and the Georgia Theatre are hosting shows under the banner of the Americana Festival. Velena Vego from the historic 40 Watt Club in Athens noted that it was a “natural” decision to host Deer Tick on Saturday night in support of the festival. Likewise, Wilmont Greene, the owner of the Georgia Theatre, noted that they got involved to help push the festival to a new level this year. Greene noted that it was an easy decision to get involved with the festival because of the number of great acts on the lineup.
Although there are certain limitations to how big Twilight Americana will get in terms of venues that sign on to host shows and the number of attendees, it’s obvious that this year is a test for how the festival might continue to grow in the future. With the impressive lineup at this year’s edition of the festival, though, Klein and Athens should have little to worry about.
Words: Dan Mistich